Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why We're Not Getting Married

Hannah Seligson has some interesting commentary and information on The Daily Beast about the courting habits of the under 40's. Some of the reasons that people participate in long term relationships but don't necessarily marry or marry much later are included below:

We want it all. We are looking for someone to be our gym buddy, career counselor, best friend, lover, creative inspiration, and therapist. In short, the intimacy expectations of young people today are off the charts. The soul mate fetish has given way to lines like: “I want to be as excited to see him in 30 years as the day we first met.” According to the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, an overwhelming majority (94 percent) of never-married singles between 20 to 29 agrees, “when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.” And that quest for “certainty” and that magic mix of qualities can take years of dating to uncover.

Fear of divorce. The divorce culture, pioneered by the Baby Boomers, is shaping the dating landscape today. With the memories of custody battles, acrimonious dinner tables, and a general atmosphere of family unrest being a not-so-distant flicker in the past, Gen Ys are resolute about not repeating the mistakes their parents made, breeding a rigorous evaluation process for prospective mates. “I want to be sure” has become their Greek chorus and a way to go into marriage with all the right armor.

Adulthood is for later. The timeline to adulthood has been loosened, says Jeffrey Arnett, a research professor at Clark University who studies twenty-somethings. Arnett points out that the concept of “emerging adults” didn’t even exist before Gen Ys, because in previous generations there was no transition into adulthood, you just became one. The zeitgeist today, however, is expressed through lines like: “I’m in no rush. Case in point: the hottest comic strip on the papers this year is Dustin, about an unmarried, unemployed 23-year-old who lives at home with his parents.

Careers take longer to forge. The days of going to work for one company and retiring with a gold watch 40 years later are long gone. Careers are now something we have many of and the path to them is often murky, at best. The new order of adulthood typical of this generation is to establish oneself in a career before getting married. For men in particular, this new order of events is causing an interference with mating—research has consistently shown that whether and when a man marries is closely tied to the adequacy and stability of his earnings.

A bounty of birth control. Before birth control, a good part of the impetus to get married was, quite simply, it was too risky to have sex outside of marriage. As a male 28-year-old “A Little Bit Married” said: “If I had to be married to have sex, I would probably be married, as would every guy I know.” (Read the whole thing here)

I'm really interested in hearing people's reactions to this piece, especially the singles out there. Is Seligson describing you and/or your friends?

Here's a few thoughts:

The soul mate thing:
"There is no teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that 'soul mates' exist. What is meant is that marriage should lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world, where there is no sex, and no giving and taking in marriage; just the way we should establish with our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters and friends deep spiritual bond which will be ever-lasting, and not merely physical bonds of human relationship."
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 4, 1954)

It occurred to me that the soul mate concept may very well reflect a strong desire among people to experience the "profound friendship of spirit" mentioned in the above quote. If so, there is nothing wrong with pursuing a relationship with this quality. However, if the the soul mate concept involves the notion that there is this one person in the universe that you are somehow preordained to live a life of bliss with this can cause problems. At the very least it severely limits the possibilities for finding a mate. The Baha'i writings emphasize "character" as the criterion for mate selection and while there may only be one "soul mate" there are potentially many people who can have a good character.

Shaken faith in marriage:
I have long believed that many of my peers, even those who were committed to trying to get married, were burdened with a severely shaken faith in the institution of marriage due to the issues mentioned in this article. It doesn't mean that if your parents divorced or even stuck it out in a miserable marriage that you can't marry happily, but it can make you doubt how likely you'll be to succeed. Addressing the concerns of young adults from such families should be a commonsense dimension of any marriage education effort.

Suspended adolescence:
"That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race could neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day and period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former degrees of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moralities, new capacities. New bounties, bestowals and perfections are awaiting and already descending upon him. The gifts and graces of the period of youth, although timely and sufficient during the adolescence of the world of mankind, are now incapable of meeting the requirements of its maturity. The playthings of childhood and infancy no longer satisfy or interest the adult mind."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 438)

I think the lengthening of time between adolescence and adulthood in our culture represents a kind of suspended adolescence due to spiritual immaturity. Not everyone is ready to take on "new virtues and powers, new moralities, new capacities", including in the area of courtship.

There's lots more that could be said, but I'll stop here and see what readers think.